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Viewpoint: The Case Against 'Emolument'

The word is outdated. Why not use plain language instead?

Why would English speakers use the word emolument, anyway?

All human societies have a formal way of using language, learned after the casual language one absorbs on Mommy’s or Daddy’s knee. Formal language serves many uses; at certain times one needs special precision or gravity to communicate with a certain distance, if the messiness of the personal and subjective would interfere with the proceedings at hand.

We cherish, then, the difference between helpaid, and assist. We cherish words like expiate and concurrent, which convey concepts meaningful more to the adult than the child and carry a whiff of polish, glint, occasion. It is this essence that President Donald Trump flouted in his October 9 letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Couching such urgent matters in the terms and phrases of a mere sit-down with a beer (“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”) is not, as Trump seems to think, a simple issue of manner, but of a neglect of the precision and personal distance key to effective international diplomacy.

However, there are times when formal English drifts beyond the useful and becomes fossilized ceremony. The word emolument is one example. It has come up in the news much of late because of the discussion as to whether Trump violated the emoluments clause in the Constitution, which stipulates that a president is not to receive “gifts, emoluments, offices or titles” from foreign powers without congressional consent.